No pipe and slippers for Dennis


When he announced his decision to step down as McLaren Team Principal earlier this month, nobody really expected Ron Dennis to become the archetypal retiree, pottering about in the garden, learning a new language, spending the winter in Spain or sitting watching the Australian Grand Prix from the comfort of his favourite comfy chair, slippers on his feet and faithful dog by his side.

Then again, when he said that despite stepping down he would "continue to expand and develop" his role as McLaren Group Chairman, there was no clue as to just how ambitious his plans are, not merely for his team but for the sport.

In an interview with, Dennis reveals just how busy his 'retirement' in going to keep him, what with his plans to get McLaren in even better shape for the future and his determination to see the sport he loves not merely survive the current economic crisis but thrive.

"After March 1, I expect to be working harder than ever before," the Englishman admitted. "That's because I'll be concentrating on leading and growing the McLaren Group, which comprises more than 1300 employees and of which I'll remain Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.

"On March 1, Martin will become team principal of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, which is the corporate name of the McLaren Group's Formula One team. Its cars are designed and built by McLaren Racing, which is part of the McLaren Group - of which, as I say, I'll remain Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. I'll still therefore be fundamentally involved in the activities of McLaren Racing and Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, simply because they're both constituent parts of the McLaren Group."

Dennis has big plans for his company, admitting that; "the business model of a Formula One team operating as a financial entity on its own is an anachronistic one. It used to work, but it won't work in the future.

"I firmly believe that the successful Formula One teams of the future will be sustained and supported by entities other than merely their shareholders and other partners," he continues, "and that's why McLaren Automotive is currently investigating the option of launching a high-performance production car. After March 1, I'll devote a greater proportion of my time to those investigations, together with the management of McLaren Automotive, in order that the McLaren Group will remain a sound, robust and profitable business, and continue to grow from strength to strength, in years to come."

Other than McLaren, Dennis is also highly supportive of FOTA, the Formula One Teams Association, believing that it can achieve great things for the sport and those that participate in it.

"A friend of mine once told me that I'm very unusual in that I have the ability to do things which are rarely compatible in human behaviour patterns: pay great attention to detail whilst also seeing the bigger picture. Without being immodest, I believe I can do those two things. That being the case, I've been able to focus on devising ways via which Formula One can continue to thrive for many years, even though I was working as a hands-on team principal, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman at the same time. Now, though, under the umbrella of FOTA, working alongside my colleague Luca di Montezemolo, I intend to devote more time to these issues.

"The result of our cooperation, supported by all the other teams, has already been profound. The cost-cutting measures that FOTA put forward were agreed by Max Mosley, when we met him in Monte-Carlo on December 10, and were taken further when FOTA met again, this time without Max, in London on January 8. As such, FOTA has already achieved great things, and it will achieve even greater things in the weeks, months and years to come.

"But that shouldn't be surprising," he continues. "You should remember that the FOTA membership consists of a number of Formula One teams - companies - many of which are exceptionally impressive and successful organisations. In good financial times and bad, such companies are well equipped to power through, if I may coin that phrase. We're not complacent; we're not reluctant to embrace radical change; we're not hidebound by on-track rivalries. No, working together for the good of the future of Formula One, we'll continue to devise powerful strategies and innovations intended to improve our sport so as to make it more affordable, more environmentally friendly and more appealing to spectators and TV viewers."

Asked if he feels the current financial crisis could see the sport knocked backwards a couple of decades, to the days when an F1 team could be run by a handful of people from a large shed or underneath the railway arches in Chiswick, Dennis replied: "In a word, no.

"Inevitably, cost-cutting will impact on certain activities that cost money," he admitted, "it would be trite to suggest otherwise. But, together with the FIA, we're working on ways to minimise that impact. It's too early to go into detail yet, because at the moment we're only at the scenario-planning stage. But the key aspect of this process that everyone should bear in mind is this: in cutting costs, which we're all agreed we must do, we mustn't erode Formula One's essential DNA. Because it's that essential DNA that keeps Formula One fans glued to their TV sets the world over every other Sunday, and it's that essential DNA that entices the board members of multi-national corporations to invest in Formula One teams as sponsors. Formula One is a great sport; it's hugely successful. Successful sports - successful businesses - power through recessions, as long as they're shrewdly managed.

And as for talk that he'll only attend a handful of races this year, even missing the much anticipated season opener in Melbourne, he says: "I'll attend most if not all Grands Prix this coming season, for two reasons. The first reason is that I'll have work to do at Grands Prix as an influential member and proponent of FOTA, and as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the McLaren Group. After all, it's via Formula One that we've built the platform on which we now intend to grow the McLaren Group further in years to come. The second reason is that I continue to love the sport of Formula One with every fibre of my being. That'll never change. So, yes, I'll be in Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix."

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Published: 29/01/2009
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